On impeachment, GOP witness list reads like a cry for help

Updated

In September 2013, after lawmakers were told it was time to raise the debt ceiling, the then-Republican majority put together an almost comical wish-list/ransom-note, filled with demands the GOP expected the Obama administration to meet.

Republicans said they would agree to raise the federal debt limit, preventing a global crisis, but only if Democrats delayed implementation of the ACA, approved the Keystone XL pipeline, imposed Medicare means testing, made the Dodd-Frank financial-regulatory-reform law more Wall Street friendly, increased oil drilling, and ended the EPA’s efforts to combat the climate crisis.

Ezra Klein wrote at the time that the list showed the Republican-led House was no longer “a sane place.” Ezra added, “The House GOP’s debt limit bill … isn’t a serious governing document. It’s not even a plausible opening bid. It’s a cry for help.”

Six years later, Republican leaders have some ideas about the witnesses who should testify in the House impeachment inquiry as it advances to its next phase, which includes public hearings that begin this week. But reading the GOP’s witness list, it doesn’t strike me as a plausible opening bid – it seems more like a cry for help. The Washington Post reported over the weekend:

House Republicans on Saturday pressed ahead with their efforts to move the impeachment inquiry away from President Trump, calling on Democrats to add witnesses to the probe including former vice president Joe Biden’s son and the whistleblower whose initial complaint kicked off the investigation. […]

The sprawling list of potential witnesses named by Republicans on Saturday … included Hunter Biden, whose father is a leading Democratic candidate to challenge Trump in 2020; Hunter Biden’s business partner Devon Archer; the unnamed whistleblower, who Trump and some of his allies have campaigned to publicly identify; the researcher Nellie Ohr of Fusion GPS, which commissioned a dossier linking Russia and Trump; and Alexandra Chalupa, a Ukrainian American who worked with the Democratic National Committee.

This is not a list compiled by officials who are serious about the inquiry.

Of course, as a procedural matter, House Republicans, from their minority perch, can’t simply call whatever witnesses they want. Rather, their wish list was turned over to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who soon after explained that the impeachment probe would not serve “to carry out the same sham investigations into the Bidens or debunked conspiracies about 2016 U.S. election interference” that Trump asked Ukraine to conduct.

Or put another way, the Republicans’ requested witness list probably won’t be taken too seriously by the House majority. The interesting thing is to consider what happens after the document ends up in the circular file in Schiff’s office.

It’s not hard to imagine how the dominoes are likely to fall. Schiff will dismiss the House GOP’s witness list as ridiculous, at which point Republicans will (again) denounce the impeachment inquiry as unfair. They’ve already made these claims, of course, and they’ve been discredited, but the complaints have never been conveyed as an accurate point rooted in good faith. The GOP’s audience has been the electorate at large, which Republicans hope to sway through dubious process claims.

But that’s not the only intended audience. I also wonder whether Senate Republicans, who’d be responsible for holding the impeachment “trial” in the event the House approves articles, might use something like this as an excuse to short-circuit the proceedings.

Indeed, by some measure, it’s already begun. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), doing lasting harm to what’s left of his reputation, told Fox News yesterday the impeachment inquiry would be “invalid” unless the intelligence community’s whistleblower is exposed.

That’s bonkers, but it’s where the debate appears to be headed.